Online safety / December 08, 2020

Top scams of 2020

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

20-1713 TELUS Wise article upload - Top Scams 2020 | Image

Scammers and fraudsters haven’t slowed down in 2020. In fact, with the lockdowns, fear and uncertainty associated with COVID-19, they’ve become even more opportunistic.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), as of September 30, 2020, there have been close to 40,000 reported frauds, with 18,533 victims and losses totaling $67.2 million.

We’ve compiled and categorized the top scams, so you can stay educated, aware and protected.

Online scams

The top three online scams include:

1. Romance: 665 reports; 470 victims; $13,383,500 in losses

Romance scammers establish a virtual relationship, offer abundant attention and affection, gain trust and then ask for money or ask you to receive money on their behalf and then send it to them. Even though it may seem far-fetched, romance scams are real and they work. Toronto Life recently did a disturbing profile of one romance scammer that shows just how damaging these scams can be emotionally and financially.

2. Grant: 412 reports; 139 victims; $387,000 in losses

Look-a-like government sites pose as official, offering small and medium-sized businesses financing. Scammers typically ask for an up-front fee or demand that you open a dedicated business banking account.

3. Merchandise: 363 reports; 295 victims; $292,300 in losses

Fake ads typically appear on classified ad sites, resale sites, web pop-ups or fake company websites. Scammers try to sell everything from illegitimate event tickets, puppies, electronics, clothing, property rentals or motor vehicles. They often ask for deposits or cash up front and then don’t deliver what they’re selling.

Email scams

The top two email scams include:

1. Phishing: 2,246 reports; 797 victims; losses not recorded

Even though most people are aware of these scams, they keep evolving and getting trickier to spot. You receive an email from what appears to be a reputable/recognizable company asking you to click on a link (which is malicious and often installs a virus/malware on your computer) and/or provide them with personal/financial information.

2. Extortion: 2,126 reports; 34 victims; $6,500 in losses

A scammer unlawfully obtains money, property or services through coercion. The CAFC lists 11 common extortion scams, but has called out two that have grown in popularity this year.

  • Cryptocurrency: Victims receive blackmail threats through email (or by phone) and are urged to send Bitcoin or other online currencies.
  • Social Insurance Number: fraudsters apparently calling from government agencies alert potential victims that their SINs have been blocked, compromised or suspended. They then ask for personal information to remediate the issue.

Job Scams: 770 reports; 282 victims; $946,100 in losses

People actively looking for employment are the prime target of fraudsters. Job fraud typically falls into four categories:

  • Car wrapping: job seekers are offered a weekly sum to wrap their car, truck, SUV or bike with a “company” logo. If they accept, they receive a contract and cheque in the mail. The contract stipulates that once they deposit the cheque (which is fake), they need to withdraw some funds to deposit into an account to cover services or fees.
  • Counterfeit cheque: targeting people who post resumes online, scammers offer fake jobs (typically care giver, admin assistant, data entry clerk or mystery shopper roles). They send a fake cheque, which they ask you to cash and then return some of the funds to cover fees or other costs.
  • Financial agent: job seekers are given an opportunity to receive payments from “clients” via e-transfer or wire transfer. Once the money is received, you are required to send Bitcoin to a company representative, effectively making you a money mule or guilty of money laundering.
  • Mystery shopper: a different take on the “deposit and transfer” scams seen above, except you are asked to fill out regular customer surveys to make the job seem real. After getting ‘paid’ you are then asked to return some funds to ensure your continued participation.

Phone scams: 3,044 reports; 1,500 victims; $5,460,500 in losses

Scammers call posing as financial services companies, phone companies, insurance providers, or to offer tech support, immigration or other services. They offer everything from air duct cleaning, pardons, and help with government documents to low interest rate offers and support for your virus-infected Microsoft computer. The ultimate goal is to obtain your personal financial information and/or secure payment for services that go undelivered.

COVID-19 scams:

Fraudsters saw opportunity in the onset of the pandemic, playing on people’s financial worries and health concerns. Reported scams include:

  • Offers for loans, debt consolidation and financial assistance
  • Duct cleaning and air filters to protect your home from COVID-19
  • Disconnection of power for non-payment
  • Fake lists of infected people in your neighbourhood
  • False positive test results
  • Requesting personal/financial information for a prescription
  • Free COVID-related products in exchange for charitable donations
  • Phishing attempts from fake government departments
  • Decontamination services sold door-to-door
  • Rapid testing
  • Fraudulent products to treat/prevent the disease

Misinformation is yet another digital concern associated with the pandemic. If you are looking for current information about COVID-19, rely on trusted sources only. The CAFC has put together a comprehensive list.

Scams are evolving rapidly, especially as we grapple with a second wave of COVID-19. To stay up to date on the latest scams and how you can protect yourself, bookmark this great resource from the CAFC. It includes a breakdown of scams, strategies for protecting yourself, how to report if you suspect fraud and what to do if you fall victim to a scam.

Frauds & scams
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